With affordable, developable land getting tougher and tougher to find in south Florida, many home buyers and business owners have been migrating north on Florida’s East Coast, looking for their place in the sunshine.
In recent years, Indian River County, just north of heavily populated Brevard and Dade counties, has seen more and more of those transplants calling the area home. In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau said the county’s population was 128,594, up from 112,947 in 2000. And those number are expected to continue to climb in the once sleepy rural community.
Founded in 1925, it was named for the Indian River Lagoon, which runs through the eastern portion of the county. It is home to general aviation manufacturer Piper Aircraft, Velocity Aircraft and CVS Distribution Center.
Of course, new residents create a demand for more infrastructure, a fact that has not escaped the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which started a 1.7-mi.-long (2.7 km) project June 4 to widen U.S. 1 from four to six lanes from south of Oslo Road to south of Indian River Boulevard.
Other improvements include replacing the bridge over the South Relief Canal with a six-lane bridge, drainage, sidewalks, street lights, new traffic signals, bike lanes and landscaping. The project is scheduled for completion in June 2010.
’We’re changing from a rural section to an urban section,” said Dewey Oliver, senior project manager of Keith and Schnars, which is overseeing the project for FDOT. “It’s a routine project that was scheduled in the long-range plan. We’re just planning for future growth. There are two other projects planned in the next two, three years. We’re completely rebuilding U.S. 1 for 1.7 miles.”
An FDOT study indicated the section of roadway between Indian River Boulevard and the county line was way over capacity with an average daily traffic flow of 36,000 vehicles.
“There’s a lot of growth in this area so it was deemed worthy of expansion,” said Bruce Haas, project manager of Sheltra & Son, the Indiantown, Fla.-based primary contractor.
Sheltra is a family-owned firm that started in the cattle and citrus industry before branching into construction. Today, the firm does bridge and road construction and underground work.
Though the $17.8 million project started slowly, Oliver said the kinks have been corrected and everything is going well now.
“We had a little bumpy start mainly because [Sheltra’s] schedule was a little too aggressive in the beginning,” Oliver said. “They didn’t allow enough time to get the materials on board, the pipe and stuff in. They’re starting to pick up now, making up the little bit of time they lost.”
Despite minor delays, Oliver said the project is on schedule and should be finished by the completion date. Haas expected phase two to begin in mid-August.
Phase one includes a small amount of pipe work on the east side of U.S. 1 and some temporary asphalt that will widen the road by 7 ft. (2.1 m), said Haas.
“The northbound traffic gets shifted a half-lane to the east,” Haas said. “In phase two, we do the same thing in the median. We take out the grass in the median and asphalt it. Then southbound traffic gets moved into that asphalt in the median.”
Haas said they’re also driving test piles for the bridge and getting the production piles manufactured so they can get those installed.
“A little bit of bridge work, a little bit of pipe work, a little bit of road work,” Haas said. “We’ve got to take care of the drainage that comes off the roadway so we’re also building two large retention ponds. We’re moving along.”
Phase three includes rebuilding the southbound lanes and starting the vertical bridge work. The latter phases include the sidewalks, traffic signals and landscaping.
Sheltra & Son owns its equipment and it has a full fleet on the job, Haas said.
“We have one pipe crew, track hoes, loaders, hand tamps and rollers to compact the backfill around the pipes,” Haas said. “We have a road crew using pretty standard stuff — bulldozers, road graders, rollers. Our company does our own asphalt and we have an asphalt crews using paving machines and rollers.”
Most of the equipment is John Deere, but it also has some Bomag rollers at the site.
In addition, several subcontractors are on site, including J.E. Hill Contracting Inc., which is doing the concrete barrier walls; Federal Fence, which is installing the fence around the retention ponds; Dickerson Florida, which is doing the asphalt paving and Bob’s Barricades.
At this point, there’s approximately 16 workers on a daytime shift. Oliver said as they get deeper into the project, they might do “one or two things at night.”
Though Oliver said “nothing so far has been a big concern,” they did run across one unexpected thing once they started tearing out the roadway.
“Old U.S. 1 is buried underneath another U.S. 1, an old concrete road,” Oliver said. “We’ve got to tear it all out.”
As any contractor who lays pipe in Florida knows, underground work presents its own set of challenges.
“The thing that hurts is it’s so close to the Indian River,” Haas said. “Because it is so close to the Indian River, the ground water is relatively close to where we’re excavating. We’re only able to excavate four-and-a-half feet before we hit ground water. To do any underground work, you have to have this water system to suck the water out of the ground to lay the pipe. It’s not a blow-and-go where you just dig a hole, throw the pipe in and backfill it. We have additional steps to install the dewatering system.
“It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is.”
While there are no detours scheduled, there will be occasional lane closures, but Oliver said those would be kept to a minimum.
While this area of Indian River County has not seen as much development as the northern part of the county, there are a number of homes and a 1,400 unit retirement community, which adds another dimension to the roadwork.
“The Vista Royale retirement community is nearby and there’s a lot of elderly users around the project,” Haas said. “It’s not particularly troublesome, but we’re just aware of them because sometimes they’re a little less responsive to change. You have to do a really good job with maintenance and traffic so they don’t get confused. We want to make sure they’re safe.”
This being Florida, it’s not unusual for different types of artifacts to be unearthed during projects like this. So far, that hasn’t happened on the job and Haas is happy it hasn’t.
“If you run into a skeleton, bones or Indian artifacts, there’s a delay,” Haas said. “They’ll bring in experts excavating with teaspoons. We’re glad not to encounter anything like that.”
Though there are no artifacts, there will be plenty of construction material used for this project.
According to Oliver, they’ll need 27,736 tons (25,200 t) of asphalt; 90,072 cu. yd. (68,900 cu m) of base rock; 12,403 linear ft. (3,780 m) of pipe and they’ll remove 64,532 cu. yd. (49,300 cu m) of dirt for the two retention ponds being built.
They’ll also remove approximately 6,000 tons (5,440 t) of rubble and rock after tearing out 1.57 mi. (2.5 km) of the old U.S. 1 concrete road.
Though still early, Haas said they’re on schedule and will finish the job on time. Once complete, the highway will be less congested and safer.
“No question there will be better traffic flow,” Haas said. “The crossovers will be safer because of the limited amount of access to median opening. There won’t be anymore right or U-turns into the median. They’ll only allow a left-hand turn into the median. It’s going to be a lot safer for the traveling public.”
Which is good news, considering more of the traveling public is making its way to Indian River County. CEG